Survival Tips for Working with Your Spouse

Do you own your own business? Does your spouse? Have you ever considered working with your spouse? I certainly hadn’t!

Even before we were married, I would help my then-boyfriend (then fiance) Darrin Piotrowski, Founder and President of Rent-A-Nerd, Inc., a New Orleans-area full-service IT company, whenever he asked me to proof a proposal, listen to a pitch, or consider a new idea.  So I certainly continued to do so after we were married. When he was accepted to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, I knew that I would be involved with his “homework,” which ultimately included a growth plan (you can read about his experience here and here). It was during this time, when we both spent hours (he many, many more than I) considering the business and its future, that we realized that there might be a place for me in Nerdom.

Mind you, I have a full-time job working for a local author–I edit his work and manage his websites and social media, along with a host of other tasks that don’t easily fall into any category. However, I am extremely type-A, rarely truly relax, litigated for ten years (a health issue forced my early retirement), and have never known boredom in my life. So I figured I could easily add a part-time job into the mix.

The thing about working for yourself (I am now a co-owner of Rent-A-Nerd, Inc., for which I am very grateful and proud) is that it’s an all-time job because I am always thinking about new ideas. My focus is on our marketing and community outreach, which is a lot of fun, I have to admit. But it is never-ending and you’ll frequently find Darrin and me at our computers at night, on the weekends, and even on holidays. It’s just our way of life, though I don’t mind because I am vested–literally and emotionally.

So, with that background, here are my tips for how to work with your spouse (and not want to kill them!):

1. Define your roles within the business and make sure they do not overlap. Darrin is very much still “the boss.” He manages the employees (an easy job, as we have a fantastic staff–we brag about them all the time because we hear glowing reviews from all of our clients). He also handles proposals and all client issues. Meanwhile, I work on our website and social media, meet with various media representatives, and coordinate with nonprofits in my role as community outreach (we love our city and believe in giving back). I certainly discuss budgeting with Darrin and do not commit to advertising without talking it over with him first. I go to him with proposed advertising materials and the like. And, he comes to me for my input on anything from office policies to how to handle a delicate client situation. But our duties and authorities do not cross.

2. Do not share a work space. This may not always be possible for those who are running a small business, but if it is, I suggest putting some distance between you and your spouse. After all, you want to be able to get together at the end of the work day and talk about your day! Also, while you might not find certain qualities annoying in small doses, imagine spending the entire day together? I think it’s just best–and keeps things fresh–if you at the very least have separate offices or work-spaces. Rent-A-Nerd, Inc. is conveniently located close to our Old Metairie home, yet I work out of our “remote office.” That’s what I call our third bedroom, which has been beautifully converted into a very workable office. Again, my main and full-time job is the work that I do for the local author, so this space is intended for that work. But still, when I am doing Rent-A-Nerd work, I stay right here. Then, when Darrin comes home, we can actually talk about what we did that day.

3. Establish clear management boundaries. Darrin does not manage me (as if) and I do not manage him (gracious–he founded this company in 1997–I think he knows what he is doing!). We give each other space and trust one another enough to know that we are each doing our job. No one likes to be micromanaged, but I’m guessing that being micromanaged by one’s spouse would be absolutely intolerable.

4. There are times when you need to stop working! I know that Darrin and I are guilty of breaking this rule, probably too often. We both keep really busy, so when we’re finally together–I’m writing this at 7:24 p.m. and he hasn’t even sent the “on my way home” text–we do tend to talk about work a lot. Therefore, we make an effort to set “no work talk” date nights; we cut off work talk at a certain time every evening; most importantly (to me at least), we take time off completely, whether for a long weekend or an actual vacation, and when we’re gone, we truly do not talk (or think much) about work (with the caveat that Darrin is always available to his employees, should the need arise, and again, we are blessed with a fabulous staff, which gives us peace of mind).

5. Remember to praise your spouse. It’s easy to get so caught up in your to-do list that you forget that your better half is also uber busy, so it’s really important to remember to thank that person for their hard work, praise them for their good work, and offer encouraging words about any difficulties they may be experiencing. I am incredibly proud of the reputation that Darrin has, both for his technical skills as well as his excellent customer service. So I make it a point to tell him just that! I also congratulate him on new client contracts and other business successes. And, he reciprocates. I feel so appreciated when he tells me that I have given him and his company an extra jolt of energy and that he feels that his improvements have resulted in part by my efforts. In fact, I can’t imagine a better compliment! So make sure to focus on all of the amazing things your spouse does to make your business the best that it can be.

6. Be careful with your criticism. I would actually caution against it altogether, though I suppose there are situations where it might be necessary. Generally speaking, since Darrin is laid back and I am not, we actually feed off of the other’s strengths. I help to push him to do better and he gives me a sense of calm. And, thus far (going on two years of working together in October), we have not had a reason to offer a critical opinion. However, I expect that at some point we will have an issue, and I think we’ll handle that much the way we handle anything in our relationship, and that is, we will speak gently, realizing that we are both doing our best.

I’m sure there are many seasoned veterans who have more items to add to this list–and if you’re one of them, I’d love to hear from you! I want to close by saying how incredibly rewarding it can be to work with your spouse. It can be a true bonding experience and a wonderful way to connect and grow together.